In the eleventh episode of Futureproof Focus Podcast, Dr. Sharon B. De Vivo, President and Chief Executive Officer of Vaughn College and host of the podcast, sat down with Loretta Alkalay, regulatory consultant, aviation attorney and adjunct professor at Vaughn for an inspiring conversation about what sparked both her love for aviation and her passion for drones.

Loretta Alkalay: An impressive career

It is not every day that you meet an attorney who has a 30-year background with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), let alone one who is a professor and an avid drone enthusiast. Meet Loretta Alkalay. If you are wondering how she has done all of this—and then some—she has a remarkable story to tell.

“It all began at New York University, where I was studying for my law degree,” she said. “One semester, I took an aviation class as an elective. That was all it took to spark my love for aviation and the law. I was hooked!” During her second year of law school, Alkalay kept her excitement of aviation in full swing by working for a law firm that handled aviation-related cases. She then went on to interview at the FAA, where she was hired and served as an aviation attorney for the next 30 years.

Then, in 2011, Alkalay decided she wanted to share her knowledge of aviation law and took a position at Vaughn College, where she co-taught a class. “It wasn’t until I began teaching at Vaughn that I became interested in drones,” she explained. “The students would play drone videos in class. I was thrilled to see what they could do.” Adding a love of photography to her list of passions, Alkalay said she could not wait to buy a drone that was outfitted with a camera. “I bought the first one that came to market,” she said excitedly. “I love taking still photography—specifically abstract Earth photography. I love the view of Earth from above. It’s amazing.”

Preparing students for careers with drones

Alkalay is excited about where the future of drones is headed. “There are so many career pathways with drones that students can take,” she stated. “Any jobs that were done by a helicopter or aircraft can be done by a drone today.” She said that in addition to drone pilot jobs in delivery and surveying, there are several other careers in areas of drone technology that students can pursue, including: software, photography and sensors.

Attracting more women to uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV)

As an institution steeped in diversity, Vaughn is committed to help attract more women to the field of engineering and aviation. Alkalay pointed out that although the barriers to working as a drone pilot are few, the number of women currently entering the field is still low due to low awareness, compounded by it being a historically male dominated field. She mentioned how Vaughn is working with local high schools to recruit more girls to its FAA-UAS Certificate Program with the help of a FAA grant. “I’m grateful to be able to participate in the high school program,” she said humbly. “The issue I am seeing is that we are starting too late. I believe we must introduce drones to children at an earlier age and eliminate the stigma of it being an overly technical and mathematical field.”

As a professor of drone law and an expert in the field, Alkalay offered suggestions on ways to recruit more women into the field of uncrewed aerial systems. These include:

  • Make the workplace more accommodating for women. Discrimination and harassment in technology fields is still prevalent. Women must feel more welcome and comfortable working in the field.
  • Make the pathway to the field clear and simple.
  • Highlight the myriad of career opportunities to create excitement.
  • Introduce drones as a viable career path to students at a younger age – and find ways to make it fun, such as creating games and races with drones.

Tips for success

As one of the most popular professors on campus, Alkalay is excited about seeing her students succeed—especially in a field that continues to grow and evolve so quickly. She offered some advice and helpful tips for students who are looking to get involved.

Ways to prepare for a career in UAV

  • Use LinkedIn to connect with people working in the field.
  • Take drone courses, such as those taught at Vaughn.
  • Join the UAV Club at Vaughn for hands-on experience building and flying drones and participating in competitions.
  • Consider this field even if you are studying flight, maintenance or air traffic control. Knowledge is transferable.

Tips for success

  • Be on time.
  • Always be prepared.
  • Have integrity.
  • Know your subject matter.
  • Ask questions.

Looking towards the future

Alkalay is excited to proclaim that the sky is literally the limit for aspiring students seeking a career in this exciting and futureproof field. “Anyone who has a drone license or a specialty in drones will be hired immediately,” she stated. “There are so many opportunities for our students now.”

As a fan of drones herself, DeVivo strongly believes that the time for students to consider a career in the field of uncrewed aerial systems is now: “The field of uncrewed aerial systems is constantly—and quickly—evolving. As new technologies become available, it’s making for a fun and fast-paced field to pursue—not to mention the incredible earning potential and awesome career trajectory.”

Do you want to become an uncrewed aircraft systems operator? Vaughn’s cutting-edge UAS design, application and operation certification program can prepare you for this exciting career. High school students can learn more about our program here. Happy flying!

Listen to the podcast in its entirety here.

In episode 10 of Futureproof Focus, Dr. Sharon B. De Vivo, President and Chief Executive Officer of Vaughn College and host of the podcast, sat down with Phil Rugile, Executive Director at the Institute for Workforce Advancement (IWA) and OSW Supply Chain on Long Island. In this exciting conversation, Rugile talked about how his work with Vaughn and local high schools is providing students with critical courses in what are known as “composites” to help build the workforce and supply chain for the Northeastern Offshore Wind Project on Long Island. The new workforce training facility in Brentwood, which will be the first of its kind to expand educational and career opportunities for Suffolk County residents was also highlighted.

What are composites?

For those who are not familiar with the term “composite materials,” Rugile describes them as anything that is not wood or pure metal. For example, the combining of two materials forms a composite. “The composite is stronger together than the two materials are alone,” Rugile explained. “They are more efficient and lighter, making them perfect for offshore wind projects as well as airplane and automotive parts and other manufacturing needs.”

How composites are creating career pathways

As an ambassador for renewable energy and offshore wind, Rugile holds multiple roles at the IWA and has spearheaded the mission to create career pathways by expanding research in the use of composites and advanced engineering practices. By partnering with Vaughn—along with the Cradle of Aviation and OSW—IWA is able to offer courses to high school students in composite manufacturing that can lead to exciting career opportunities. “There’s a gap between the kinds of careers kids are exposed to, compared to the careers and opportunities that actually exist in composite manufacturing,” said Rugile. “By bridging this gap, we are able to bring students into the program and show them what careers these skills can lead to.”

Here are the steps he takes:

  • Introduce students to the program to gain their interest and create a career pathway
  • Show students the next steps to a career in renewable energy through Vaughn College’s degree and certification programs
  • Educate high school teachers about these career opportunities

Diversity in the offshore wind industry

DeVivo asked about the importance of diversifying the workforce in the offshore wind industry. Rugile replied: “This industry is driven by state requirements to be much more inclusive and to create a pool of industry resources that are very diverse. New York State is mandating that there is a plan to engage communities, such as minority-owned and women-owned businesses.” It is important to note that diversifying the workforce boosts career opportunities for adults—as well as students. “Because composites are becoming more prevalent, we are discovering new educational opportunities that never existed before,” said Rugile. “We are now training union workers on how to use composites. It’s a hands-on version of the program that is very successful.”

Brentwood training facility

In March 2022, the Suffolk County Legislature approved a plan to purchase state-owned property in Brentwood, Long Island for $1.46 million to build a workforce training facility. The purpose of this facility, slated to open sometime in 2024, is to strengthen the career pipeline for students and the local economy. Rugile explained that the facility was originally planned to serve as a haven for kids after school. “About five years ago, Brentwood had the worst gang problem in the entire state of New York. Today, the reimagined space has three critical elements that are sure to open doors of opportunity for a new generation.” They include:

  • A community center to provide a safe space for youth to go after school and explore their interests and talents in a meaningful way
  • A workforce training center where people of all ages can develop skills in composites, machining, construction, engineering, safety and more so they can succeed in these fields
  • The National Offshore Wind Training Center, the facility that will provide students with an introduction to the field and provide a pathway to obtain their Global Wind Organization Certification

Offshore Wind Project support

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERD) is working to bring at least 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2035, enough to power six million homes. This is part of the state’s goal to reach 70% of electricity coming from renewable sources by 2030. Long Island is a focus area of this initiative. Offshore wind farms are in development through large developers and energy companies, which are being supported by infrastructure upgrades and training programs, like Rugile’s. New projects of this magnitude take time, but will come to fruition according to Rugile.

Explore careers in offshore wind and renewable energy sources

Offshore wind is coming to Long Island in a big way, which will create a myriad of career opportunities. To learn how you can start your training and become part of the renewable energy movement, check out: OSW Long Island. Watch episode 10 of our podcast in its entirety and check out our . You can also learn about Vaughn’s engineering programs and check out Vaughn’s certificate in composite manufacturing.